What Vitamins Do Cats Need? - Cat Info Detective

What Vitamins Do Cats Need?

Skye Blake-updated, white background

Welcome cat lovers everywhere! Skye Blake here… uncovering answers to that burning question “What vitamins do cats need?”

And while we’re at it, let’s learn about minerals too, since they’re both vital micronutrients.

paw prints coming in from a distance

Vitamins & Minerals, Oh My!

capsules spilling out of bottle - vet medicine, CBD

Most people are familiar with vitamins and minerals in their own diets but might not realize they’re very important for cats too!

Vitamins and minerals are micronutrients, while proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are macronutrients.

You can learn more about the importance of macronutrients at “What Nutrients Do Cats Need?

rock, minerals, moss

Vitamins and minerals are vital for proper bone growth, nervous system function, good metabolism, and vision.

Common vitamins are B-complex and C (water-soluble), A, D, E, and K (fat-soluble).

Some examples of necessary minerals are calcium, potassium, iron, sodium, and copper.

What are Vitamins?

pharmacist, vet, scientist, bottles, pills, capsules

Vitamins (“essential nutrients”) are chemically organic compounds that are necessary in small amounts for growth and health in “higher forms of animal life”.1Vitamin – Definition, Types, & Facts“, Britannica

“Without vitamins, many enzymes (substances that promote chemical reactions) that are essential for normal feline metabolism could not function.”2Cat Nutrition: Guide to Cat Food Nutrients“, Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD, February 15, 20213

vitamin A generic bottle

They’re different from macronutrients because your cat’s body can’t create them and must get them through food or other sources.

One good thing about vitamins is that your cat only needs small amounts of them to perform their necessary functions.

But it’s very important they be given in specific amounts for your cat… no more and no less.

vitamin D generic bottle

Too much is just as bad as too little of any vitamin.

If a vitamin is missing from the diet or is not properly absorbed by the body (“bioavailability”) nutritional deficiencies can develop, causing serious diseases.

What Vitamins Do Cats Need?

doctor, scientist, vet, pills, capsules, vitamins

“According to AAFCO, cat foods should contain the following vitamins:

  • Vitamin A: Important for vision, bone and tooth growth, reproduction, and maintenance of skin and mucous membranes
  • Vitamin D: Increases blood calcium and phosphorous levels to support growth and maintenance of bones

[Cats have to get Vitamin D through food because their skin can’t absorb it.]

vitamin D generic bottle
  • Vitamin E: An important antioxidant
  • Vitamin K: Necessary for normal blood clotting
  • Thiamin[e]: Plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism
  • Riboflavin: Releases energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
vitamin B generic bottle
  • Pantothenic Acid: Needed for metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and some amino acids
  • Niacin: Necessary for processing fats, carbohydrates, and protein
  • Pyridoxine: Helps metabolize amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids
  • Folic Acid: Needed for synthesis of DNA and the amino acid methionine
dietician, food, vitamins, minerals, vet
  • Biotin: Helps make fatty acids, some amino acids, and DNA/RNA
  • Vitamin B12: Required for fat and carbohydrate metabolism and nerve conduction

What Foods Have Vitamins?

shopping, register tape, receipt, food

Vitamins are already in many cat food ingredients, including meats, vegetables, oils, seeds, and grains.

But it’s almost impossible to have all the vitamins in the exact amounts that a cat needs unless they’re added in the manufacturing process.

This is one of the main reasons why it’s so important to choose only foods that are complete and balanced according to either AAFCO or WSAVA recommendations.

What About Supplements?

pills, vitamins, vet, medicine, minerals

If your cat is healthy and you’re feeding a complete and balanced diet, it’s not necessary to give any vitamin supplements.

In fact, it can be dangerous to give too much of some vitamins, so be sure to ask your vet before putting anything extra in your cat’s food.

If you’re dealing with a kitten, pregnant queen, sick adult, or senior cat, follow your vet’s instructions to feed the correct diet, including any supplements, if needed.

capsules, pills, vitamins, medicine, vet

If you’re feeding a raw diet, you should already have consulted a board-certified vet nutritionist to develop a diet plan specifically for your cat.

Consulting with a vet nutritionist will give you confidence that all vitamins are included in the appropriate amounts.

Any diet plan must be strictly followed, so types of ingredients and quantities of them must not change.

explosion of pills, capsules, vitamins, vet

Not feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced diet has serious consequences for your cat.

Learn more about veterinary nutritionists at “What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Find out more about raw diets at “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” and “Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?

Are “Natural” Vitamins Better Than “Synthetic”?

pharmacist, vet, scientist, vitamins, bottles, pills, capsules

There’s a claim often made that natural vitamins are better for your cat than synthetic.

But is this true?

Well, as with most nutrition, this is a more complex situation than many people understand or want to believe.

When it comes to bioavailability, there are many factors affecting a cat’s ability to absorb and use nutrients, including natural or synthetic vitamins.

ginger tabby cats eating from newspaper

Any vitamin, whether in natural or synthetic form, can become toxic if there’s too much in food or given as supplements.

Vitamin A is a good example of this… it easily becomes toxic when not properly given, no matter what form it takes.

If there’s too little of any vitamin, nutritional deficiencies can develop that cause serious health problems, affecting organs like the brain, heart, eyes, and liver.

longhaired grey, white cat eating kibble by glass of water, food

Here are some of the factors affecting bioavailability…

  • Stage of life
  • Digestive and overall health
  • Nutritional status
kittens lounging together
  • Quantity and quality of the vitamins
  • Genetics
  • Integrity of the ingredient containing the vitamins when eaten

To discover more about natural vs. synthetic ingredients, check “Natural Vs. Synthetic Vitamins (veterinarypracticenews.com)“.

Questionable Purity

woman holding bottle of CBD oil

Another concern is that synthetic ingredients are sometimes made in China and other countries where the purity is questionable.

As far as I can find there have been no published clinical studies about impurities or comparisons between synthetics from various countries or companies.

essential oils - fleas, CBD

Until there are, nobody can make claims either way.

Purity can also be questionable in natural sources of vitamins but, again, without further studies, the facts aren’t available about effects on cats.

What Are Minerals? Are We Eating Rocks?

minerals, gemstones

Well, actually rocks have various minerals in or on them, so in a way we are eating rocks!

Minerals are naturally occurring chemically “inorganic” solids that have one chemical composition and a definite crystalline structure.

“Inorganic” means they don’t have any carbon in them.

person collecting salt in ocean, minerals

The crystalline structure gives minerals distinct colors and identifiable characteristics.

Rocks can contain chemically organic matter such as fossils along with any number of minerals.

People value minerals more than rocks, mining rocks to get ore from which they extract the minerals.

Why Do Cats Need Minerals?

pyrite ore, minerals, fools gold

Minerals are vital for a cat to be able to function properly and must be in their diet.

They’re necessary for many functions in your cat’s body… helping move fluids throughout the body in the bloodstream, keeping bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles working smoothly.

calcium pools, minerals

Either too little or too much of any can cause serious problems at every stage of a cat’s life.

Just as with vitamins, mineral proportions have to be juuuuuust right!

An example of a common mineral problem is when too much calcium causes bladder stones.

What Are Chelated Minerals?

iodine crystals, minerals

Some minerals are difficult for cats to absorb from food (“bioavailability”).

They need something extra to be able to get the nutrition they need from those minerals.

Chelation is a process that attaches a mineral to another substance, usually amino or organic acids.

Mining equipment in surface mine

Amino acids help the body absorb whatever is bound to them.

There is some evidence that animals absorb certain chelated minerals better than their non-chelated forms, but it’s more complex than that.

You must use less of a chelated mineral to get the necessary amount for your cat to use without overdosing.

calcium pools, minerals

It also means it can be easily overdosed and become toxic, so you can’t substitute chelated for non-chelated minerals on a 1:1 ratio.

Talk to your vet or a board-certified veterinary nutritionist about safe mineral proportions if you feed your cat a raw diet.

Any commercial foods that are 100% complete and balanced and meet either AAFCO or WSAVA recommendations, will have the necessary minerals your cat needs at every life stage.

What Minerals Do Cats Need?

manganese, minerals

AAFCO has recommended that the following minerals be cat foods in the proper amounts for good health (not too little, not too much)…

Macro-minerals

  • “Calcium: Vital for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth and as an intracellular messenger
  • Phosphorus: Essential for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth and vital to normal metabolism
  • Magnesium: Important for enzyme function and the metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats
salt, magnesium, minerals
  • Potassium: An electrolyte that’s important for nerve function, muscular contraction, and heart rhythm
  • Sodium and Chloride (salt): Electrolytes that help with hydration, acid-base balance, transmitting nerve impulses, and muscle contraction”5Cat Nutrition: Guide to Cat Food Nutrients“, Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD, February 15, 2021

Trace Minerals

cast iron
  • Copper: Plays roles in iron absorption and transport, skin pigmentation, and skeletal growth
  • Iron: Needed for oxygen transport throughout the body
  • Manganese: Important for metabolism, immune function, and bone formation, as well as acting as an antioxidant and more
wire from zinc
  • Zinc: Necessary for carbohydrate, lipid, protein, and nucleic acid metabolism
  • Iodine: Needed to make thyroid hormones

What Foods Have Minerals?

beef bones, raw cat food, calcium

A few minerals are in animal parts like bone meal and plants.

But to be nutritionally complete and balanced, cat food manufacturers have to add mineral supplements just as they do with vitamins.

And if you’re making your own cat’s food, you must do the same in the proper amounts.

Do I Have to Give Mineral Supplements?

explosion of pills, capsules, vitamins, vet, minerals

Mineral supplements aren’t necessary for a healthy cat if you’re feeding a complete and balanced diet.

The food should have a statement saying it meets or exceeds AAFCO or WSAVA recommendations.

Since it can be dangerous to give too much of any minerals, ask your vet before giving any kind of supplements.

matchsticks, phosphorus

If you’re dealing with a kitten, pregnant queen, sick adult, or senior cat, follow your vet’s instructions to feed the correct diet, including any supplements, if needed.

If you’re feeding a raw diet, you should already have consulted a board-certified vet nutritionist to develop a diet plan specifically for your cat.

Consulting with a vet nutritionist will give you confidence that all minerals are included in the appropriate quantities.

doctor, scientist, vet, pills, capsules, vitamins

Not feeding a nutritionally complete and balanced diet has serious consequences for your cat.

Learn more about veterinary nutritionists at “What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Find out more about raw diets at “Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks” and “Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?

Conclusions to Draw

woman thinking, pondering, wondering, choice, question

Now that you’ve learned a bit about vitamins and minerals in your cat’s food, what conclusions can you draw for your situation?

One is that the safest, most convenient way to be sure your cat is getting essential vitamins and minerals is using only commercial foods that are complete and balanced.

Check with your vet with any questions about the food you want to use for your cat’s stage of life, health, and taste.

vet - telemedicine-laptop

If you want to feed a raw diet, the importance of having vitamins and minerals in the proper balance can’t be overstated.

You’re responsible to do it right, and the best way to do that is consult a board-certified veterinary nutritionist.

See these related pages to discover more about nutrition and cat food…


Cat Food!How Is Cat Food Made?
Cat Food Companies – Which Are Best?Cat Food Recalls – What Do They Mean?
Meat By Products In Cat FoodPet Food Regulations & Oversight
Reading Cat Food LabelsHow to Feed a Cat
Cat Food & Water BowlsCat Food Puzzles
What Nutrients Do Cats Need?Are Carbs Bad for Cat?
Can Cats Drink Milk?Food for Kittens – Giving Them Good Nutrition
Big Cat Food Paying Off Vets & Other MythsWhat’s the Best Cat Food?
Dry Cat Food (Kibble)Homemade Cat Food
Raw Cat Food – Good or Bad?Raw Meat Diet for Cats – Benefits vs. Risks
The Best Cat Food BrandsThe Best Kitten Food
Wet Cat FoodCat Food Allergies & Sensitivities
Dental Care for CatsFat Cats – Unhealthy or Cute?
What’s a Veterinary Nutritionist?

Sources

Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.

Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.

Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.

Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own. Sometimes they refer to primary sources.

When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.

List of Sources

Cat Food Ingredients: A Comprehensive Guide” by Christine O’Brien, Hill’s Pet (hillspet.com), May 31, 2018

Cat Nutrition: Guide to Cat Food Nutrients” by Jennifer Coates, DVM, PetMD, February 15, 2021

Ingredients in Dog Food and Cat Food: Complete Guide” by Amanda Ardente, DVM, PhD, PetMD, September 16, 2020

Natural Vs. Synthetic Vitamins” by Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, FAAMA, (veterinarypracticenews.com), December 30, 2009

“Nutrition & Nutritional Disorders” – Veterinary Pediatrics: Dogs and Cats from Birth to Six Months by Johnny D. Hoskins, DVM, PhD, Professor, Veterinary Clinical Medicine, Louisiana State University, School of Veterinary Medicine, W.B. Saunders Company, a Division of Harcourt Brace & Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1995, 2nd edition, pp. 511-524

Rocks and Minerals Facts” – Science Struck

Thirty Ways to Spot Quacks and Vitamin Pushers” by Stephen Barrett, MD, Quackwatch, March 2, 2022

To Chelate or Not to Chelate [Minerals]?” by Cailin R. Heinze, VMD, MS, DACVIM (Nutrition), Clinical Nutrition Service at Cummings School (tufts.edu), November 8, 2021

Updated January 9, 2023

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